And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. I Thessalonians 4:13
During Wanda’s last days, Mark left Victoria in the care of Kathy Potter, Mark’s Pastor’s wife, for this last trip to the hospital in Gainesville, Florida. The Potters were also the “chosen” paternal grandparents, as both of Mark’s parents were deceased. Victoria had continued to stay with Granddad and Grandma Potter when Mark returned home.
Just hours after Wanda’s passing, the journey home for Mark began. Upon departure from the hospital, Mark called his pastor. The conversation revolved around, not his own sorrow, but instead around Victoria. He had to tell Victoria that her mommy had died. How? What do you say? The conversation between the two would become pivotal.
After more discussion, prayer and thoughtfulness, Mark made the decision of how and what he would say. He arranged to go directly to his pastor’s home where Victoria was. As she ran to him when he arrived, and he hugged her tightly, biting back the tears that were burning to escape, he felt all the love that a father possibly could for a child, and all the heartache that a husband feels when faced with this great loss. That first hug when he entered their home was special, but it would pale in comparison to the embraces yet to come.
As Mark let Kathy know that he was about to talk to Victoria, she went to her room and began to pray for Mark. She prayed not only for God to grant Mark wisdom in explaining to Wanda’s little angel the death of her mother, but also that He spare Victoria as much pain as possible.
As he pulled Victoria onto his lap, face to face he began, while trying desperately to keep as composed as possible for her sake, “Victoria, you know mommy has been very sick.”
Victoria responded quickly, “yes, Can I go see her? I want to go see her!” Her voice and eyes held an urgency that was so strong for a child her age.
With his heart breaking and obvious pain on his face, he replied, “No sweetie, that’s what daddy wants to talk to you about. You know mommy has been very sick and the doctors have tried to help mommy….” Victoria, who adored her mommy interrupted again. “Take me to see mommy! I want to see her!”
The moment was starring him in the face. The news had to be shared. “Sweetheart, listen to daddy. Daddy loves you. The doctors did everything they could, but mommy’s heart couldn’t be fixed. Victoria, mommy died this morning.” Although Mark had spent many hours in prayer over this conversation, the anguish he felt at this moment was unspeakable.
Mark didn’t want to tell Victoria that “God took mommy to heaven”. He believed that might cause her to be angry with God. He didn’t want to tell her that “God needed mommy”, for Victoria was very smart and she knew that she needed her more than God would.
As those words reached her ears, they instantly seemed to penetrate her heart. The sobs and cries of both father and daughter could be heard throughout the house. Mark was not quite prepared for the long heartrending cries of his child. As they held one another, Victoria’s pleas of “I want my mommy!” were the cries of a frightened child, as painful a scene as one can imagine. Time seemed to stand still for the mourning pair. Their world had just been dramatically altered. Life would never be the same.
As the sobs slowed to hiccups and the waterfall of tears to trickles, he wanted to prepare her for the following days as best he could. He began to explain where Mommy had gone. “We know mommy has gone to heaven. She is no longer in her body like we are. Just as we are standing inside this house, when we step outside, all that’s left is an empty house of wood and furniture. Mommy is in heaven, and all that is left here is skin and bones. Heaven is an amazing place. Mommy is seeing people right now that have died before her in heaven. She is completely healed! Mommy can walk up stairs, breathe without her oxygen machine, has a strong heart, and most of all she can see Jesus!”
“We can see mommy again. We may not have to die. Some day soon Jesus will say, “Everyone that loves Me, come up here!” And if we love Jesus, and He lives in our hearts, and we live for Him, we will get to go to heaven, and we will see mommy again!”
Mark could tell there was much activity in his small child’s head. When she spoke again she said, “Daddy, are you going to die?” Even though Mark knew this question would come soon, he wasn’t ready for it right then, but silently prayed, “Lord help me answer well.”
“Yes, honey, I will one day, but people usually die when they are older. Remember mommy was very sick, and the doctors did all they could do.” Mark patiently explained to Victoria what would take place over the next few days.
“When someone dies, we take very good and respectful care of the body that is left. They will put mommy’s body in, what they call a “casket”. Mommy will be all dressed up pretty, and many people will go to the church where the casket will be, and they will hug us and tell us that they loved mommy too.”
As she absorbed this he slowly continued, “The next day they will have a special service for us and everyone will sing and the preacher will talk about how special she was to all of us.”
Continuing in a slow, deliberate manner, Mark asked Victoria if she thought it would be a good idea to place the Valentine’s Day gift she had bought for mommy just days before in the casket. Symbolic of placing their hearts of love inside the casket with mommy, Mark felt the symbolism more important for Victoria than for himself. However, knowing that Victoria might need to “see” something that she had done to help her mommy to be remembered, Mark suggested to Victoria this gift for Wanda’s casket.
With tear-filled eyes, she nodded and then looked away. Knowing Victoria was thinking hard and trying in vain to comprehend, Mark’s heart so filled with a desire to “fix it” for her. He began to wonder if he had overwhelmed Victoria’s little mind with so much information at one time.
Almost as if she understood her father’s dilemma, Victoria turned back to Mark and said, “Yes, and I want to color a picture for mommy. Can I color mommy a Valentine picture?” To keep Victoria’s mind occupied, Mark had purchased a Valentine’s Day coloring book when they had brought Wanda back the gift that Victoria had chosen. I can still remember the enormous amount of strength it took for Wanda to express the obvious joy she felt in receiving something from her darling girl. I can still see the smile she mustered up from within, to make certain her little girl was not alarmed at the drastic changes that the hours had made on her mommy.
Mark told her that would be fine. She jumped from his lap and went in search of her new book. He watched her deliberate movements. She had a job to do. Even then, she seemed to be a focused, mission-minded little girl. Thoughts of “how am I going to do this Lord?” tumbled around his head like the ragged tumbleweed of an old western.
As she settled in at a little table nearby, kneeling on the floor, she began coloring. Tears still in his throat, Mark noticed that as Victoria colored, she was furiously wiping tears from her eyes, in an attempt to keep her vision clear. “Daddy, I can’t see the lines. I want it to be good for mommy.” Still wiping tears that seemed to come from an endless fountain inside her heart, she cried, “Daddy, I can’t see the lines”.
“It’s okay Babe, you just keep coloring”, was his own teary reply. Mark watched her intently as she continued to color and wipe her eyes. Wondering if what Victoria was thinking and feeling, was comparable to his own despair, Mark sat back and waited on Victoria to finish her mother’s final gift.
Victoria finished the picture with great care. It was beautiful. Even the parts that were outside the lines. She then put the final touch to it—signing it. Mark noticed she had written at the top, “To: MOW Love: Victoria”. As she turned, the picture for him to see it completed, he said, “that’s right”. He later confided to Aimee, “You know me, wanting to spell it right, I told her that “Mom” was spelled with an “m” at the end.”
Victoria fixed it, so that it said, “MOWM”. She turned to Mark and said, “Daddy, do you think mommy can see this?” He quickly replied, “Yes, I believe she can!” As she turned and held the picture up to the ceiling, his heart near bursting with the anguish of it all, she then turned back and with tears streaming down her face she said, “She said it was good.”
Mark said, “Yes, Babe, I believe mommy said it was good.” Father and daughter sat and shared their own private moment, as God’s hand, through the eyes of a four-year old girl, started the healing process.
Over an hour had passed when Grandma Potter stepped into the room. You could almost touch the deep pain coming from their hearts, as it seemed to hover like a thick fog. As Grandma Potter was walking toward Victoria, she turned to meet her and said, “Grandma, my mommy died.” With those words spoken from her lips, a sense of God’s presence was evidenced.
After Mark shared this conversation with us, we felt that he had handled it the best way possible. Of course, we couldn’t listen with dry eyes. We found ourselves mopping our own faces as the dam of emotions threatened to explode in our hearts. We knew that God had given him the strength to do and say what was necessary. And that God would help him deal with each day, and each event as each one dawned anew.
Psalm 121:1-4 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.“
Copyright © 2008 Angie Knight, author of The Knightly News. All rights reserved.